The Death of a Parish | A Promise of New Life?

MONG THE MOST PAINFUL spiritual experiences many Catholics suffer is the closure of their parish. This pain is especially acute for those who have invested years or decades of their lives in their community. Some even have generations of family history tied up in a parish. So devastating is the loss that for many the grieving process is akin to that of a death in the family.

But this is a cross that some bear and others do not. Each parish has a unique story and unique gifts to offer. Some are material, but the greatest asset of each parish is its people. But when a parish closes, the community is left in mourning. The psalmist states: “Send forth your Spirit and all things shall be created anew; and you shall renew the face of the earth.” (Psalm 104:30). Is there a promise of new life after such loss? There is no easy fix; the Holy Spirit will guide such rebirth.

HIS SCENE HAS BEEN PLAYING OUT all over the United States and many parts of the world. One such tragically sad closure is that of the Holy Trinity (German) R. C. Church in Boston’s South End. It was exceptionally unique and beautiful. Established in 1844, the current building was dedicated in 1877. The parish was closed in 2008 and the church building recently put up for sale. Serving the German community, it was also home for many years to the Traditional Latin Mass. (This is especially notable prior to Pope Benedict’s 2007 Apostolic Letter Summorum Pontificum on the celebration of the Roman Rite according to the Missal of 1962).

Holy Trinity was one of several churches in downtown Boston built in the nineteenth century to serve an enormous immigrant population. These edifices, many within a few short blocks of each other, are larger than most cathedrals throughout the United States. Many issues, some complex and some tragic, leave the nineteenth and twentieth century configurations of the Archdiocese hopelessly out of date and unsustainable.

UT NEW LIFE BEGINS TO BREATHE ELSEWHERE: I received a phone call from Fr. Jonathan Gaspar, Director of the Office of Divine Worship and Priest Secretary to His Eminence Seán Cardinal O’Malley. The historic organ at Holy Trinity Church, an E. & G. G. Hook, Opus 858, ca. 1877 was being removed in five days in order for it to be preserved. Before it was to be dismantled, he asked me to come in for a look and to record the instrument one last time.

The hope is that this instrument will continue to lead the people in singing God’s praises in a brand new Neo-Gothic style chapel being built by the Archdiocese near Boston’s newly developing waterfront. Although not designated as a parish, Our Lady of Good Voyage Chapel will serve a great need in that location. Pending the outcome of fundraising, this organ will have an opportunity lead the Church in sacred song again.

As I began to play the forty-five rank instrument, I thought of the generations who came here to worship God. For one hundred sixty-four years, this parish nourished the faithful. Playing these last notes in this church was a sacred privilege I did not deserve.

HAT WAS SUPPOSED TO BE A SHORT ten-minute visit tuned into nearly two hours. The organ was in shockingly good condition for having not been serviced in six years. (This is a testament to a highly robust music program that featured several ongoing choirs.) After six years, the tuning was remarkable except for some reeds, which one expects. The chests were in astoundingly good shape. One hundred thirty-seven years after it was first built, this instrument wants to sing on! It must.

Typical of the extraordinary craftsmanship of the Hook organs are its deep and rich colors. I savored the distinctively warm flutes and strings supported by beautiful 8’ foundations. The reeds were colorful, and the instrument, well balanced. Rebuilt and revoiced by Conrad Olson in the 1950′s, the instrument is highly versatile, capable of leading hymns as well as accompanying chant and choral music.

Exploring various colors, I wandered into improvisations of hymns and chants I thought fitting for a last farewell. Among them were Praise to the Lord, and For All the Saints to honor all those who came before to worship here. In Paradisum and Lux aeterna were fitting for what felt like a funeral for the organ and for this magnificent church. Finally, I share with you the very last notes I played that day, an improvisation on Ave Maris Stella. Its somewhat mournful tone is fitting. The final phrases linger on a bit too long, as I did not want to leave.

The bells in the tower, (which originate from New Orleans during the Civil War–another intriguing story) as you can hear, still work beautifully:

HOSE I MET WORKING ONSITE treated this former place of worship with reverence and dignity. They were proud of the construction from local puddingstone and granite. They went about their business with a sense of respect and awe for the sacred objects they were sadly removing.

But there is a sacred end for the sacred objects being removed: the stained glass windows, the pews, and all the woodwork that covered the walls will be re-purposed in other churches and perhaps some in the seaport chapel. The extraordinarily beautiful high altar is currently being installed at the St Joseph Cathedral in Manchester, New Hampshire. The Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston is receiving many of the statues and has already been using the beautiful baptismal font. Perhaps these are small but important ways to honor the countless faithful who worshipped at Holy Trinity.

R. GASPAR PLAYED A FEW LAST NOTES on the organ before we left. Then, stepping out into the bright sunlight, we knew we would never set foot inside again. He later said it felt like we were witnessing the death of a church. Its beauty went far beyond appearances; it shone as a beacon of Christ’s light for generations of worshippers. Its greatest beauty was its people. This is why it feels like a death. But will there be new life?

Perhaps this story reminds us of the frailty of the physical world, of earthly possessions. But tied up in this corporeal existence are real memories, spiritual journeys, and lives filled with joy and suffering. We are brusquely reminded that the Kingdom of God is not here. Our hope and trust is entirely with the Lord. But God does not leave us comfortless. We are sisters and brothers in the Universal Church. We are united as one in the Body of Christ and united in Christ’s love. Congregavit nos in unum Christi amor.

Suffering, pain, and loss may not be abated. But the suffering of those who carry the cross often gain greatly in wisdom. As Jesus promises to send the Holy Spirit, he said “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live.” (John: 18-19)

O Sacrum Convivium | Choralife Publisher

SACRUM CONVIVIUM is now available exclusively with Choralife Publisher.  It is based on the antiphon in Mode V.  Latin text honoring the Blessed Sacrament written by Saint Thomas Aquinas (1225 – 1274)  for the Office for Corpus Christi, it is often sung for Holy Thursday and benediction.

O sacred banquet!
in which Christ is received,
the memory of his Passion is renewed,
the mind is filled with grace,
and a pledge of future glory to us is given.


Beauty and Liturgy | Pope Saint John Paul II’s Letter to Artists

OPE SAINT JOHN PAUL II’s Letter to Artists (1999) is an inspired document worth reading and rereading. In it he outlines the relationship between art and faith – between beauty, goodness, and truth as well as our responsibility to an “artistic vocation in the service of beauty.” (Letter of His Holiness Pope John Paul II to Artists, §3) Implications for the liturgy are unmistakable and its influence on faith incontrovertible.

* *   Letter of His Holiness Pope John Paul II to Artists • 1999

With regard to the liturgy, Saint John Paul is clear in the relationship between beauty and truth. Through this relationship, Gregorian Chant expresses the eternal in celebration of the mass:

Gregory the Great compiled the Antiphonarium and thus laid the ground for the organic development of that most original sacred music which takes its name from him. Gregorian chant, with its inspired modulations, was to become down the centuries the music of the Church’s faith in the liturgical celebration of the sacred mysteries. The “beautiful” was thus wedded to the “true”, so that through art too souls might be lifted up from the world of the senses to the eternal. (Ibid, §7)

This is a bold statement, especially in light of St. John Paul’s strong words on Gregorian Chant, just a few years later in 2003:

12. With regard to compositions of liturgical music, I make my own the “general rule” that St Pius X formulated in these words: “The more closely a composition for church approaches in its movement, inspiration and savour the Gregorian melodic form, the more sacred and liturgical it becomes.” (Chirograph for the Centenary of Tra le sollecitudini)

St. John Paul also makes an appeal to musicians and architects. Such a profound effect architecture has upon our worship and our soul! It can be deleterious, or it can lift our minds to greater things. Architecture can remove us from present worldliness and draw us heavenward into timeless eternity. Likewise, music does the same. It can either be harmful, or sometimes worse – endlessly harmless. Or music can uplift, edify, and sanctify the soul.

I appeal especially to you, Christian artists: I wish to remind each of you that, beyond functional considerations, the close alliance that has always existed between the Gospel and art means that you are invited to use your creative intuition to enter into the heart of the mystery of the Incarnate God and at the same time into the mystery of man. (Letter of His Holiness Pope John Paul II to Artists, §14)

AINT JOHN PAUL LAYS OUT THE RESPONSIBILITY of the artist. He clearly recognizes not only the importance and “profound respect” for art, but for its necessity. It is our responsibility to seek and employ what is beautiful, and to do the best we can with what is possible. Through this beauty we praise God. Through beauty, we evangelize. Art expresses our faith, articulates our prayer, and reminds us of how we must live. Beauty lifts the faith of those around us. St. John Paul calls us to this responsibility but also gives a stern warning:

The particular vocation of individual artists decides the arena in which they serve and points as well to the tasks they must assume, the hard work they must endure and the responsibility they must accept. Artists who are conscious of all this know too that they must labour without allowing themselves to be driven by the search for empty glory or the craving for cheap popularity, and still less by the calculation of some possible profit for themselves. (Ibid, §4)

Finally, it must be understood that the simple is often beautiful. We likely do not have endless resources, financial and otherwise, to create the most beautiful sacred liturgy. We must do what is possible. The simplest of chant and inspired melody, sung well and with prayerful heart, expresses truth. One might evoke Pope Francis who calls for a Church of and for the poor. In the recognition of all human dignity, the poor especially deserve truth from which beauty emanates. The greatest beauty often comes from the least among us.

N COMPOSING THE Mass in Honor of Pope Saint John Paul II, I pray that I have lived up to some of the his words. If not, I will strive further! This mass is published with the approval for liturgical use by the Committee on Divine Worship, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

DOWNLOAD Complete Score (2.3 MG):
PDF • Mass in Honor of Pope Saint John Paul II (for Schola, Organ, SATB)

DOWNLOAD Unison/Organist Edition:
PDF • Mass in Honor of Pope Saint John Paul II (for Schola, Organ)

SATB Recordings by the St. Cecilia Choir, Boston, MA, with the 1999 Smith & Gilbert Organ:

YouTube:  Penitential Act C | Kyrie
YouTube:  Gloria
YouTube:  Sanctus
YouTube:  Memorial Acclamation A
YouTube:  Memorial Acclamation B
YouTube:  Memorial Acclamation C
YouTube:  Doxology, Amen
YouTube:  Agnus Dei

Ascent to Freedom

True freedom does not rise from the capacity to fulfill all desires. Freedom is captivity, followed by battle, followed by faith, followed by wisdom and compassion as seen through the eyes of love.

Of this struggle, true liberation is born.

“… Its five movements are quite accessible, sometimes displaying a French influence. The last three movements made imaginative use of, respectively, the Lutheran chorale If You But Trust in God to Guide You, the spiritual Go Down, Moses, and the hymn How Can I Keep From Singing. There was some compelling musical illustration in the spiritual movement when tortured chromaticism and crunchy reed chords gave way suddenly to diatonic harmonies on the solo clarinet accompanied by string celeste: the effect was like a release from bondage.” — The Boston Music Intelligencer

Reviewed from this Live Performance on the 1875 E. & G. G. Hook & Hastings, Opus 801, Cathedral of the Holy Cross, Boston, MA

VIEW SAMPLE SCORE: Ascent to Freedom 

  • Purchase Digital PDF copy ($12.95) comes with reprint license) 
    As recorded on the 1999 Smith & Gilbert Organ, St. Cecilia Church, Boston:

The Thoughts of His Heart

HAVE LONG BEEN FASCINATED with the text of the Introit for the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Cogitationes, Ps. 33 (32): 11, 19: “The thoughts of his heart stand from generation to generation: that he might deliver their souls from death, and nourish them in times of famine.”

  • Digital PDF copy ($8.95 comes with reprint license for the buyer only.)  

HE THOUGHTS OF HIS HEART is an organ work based on Cogitationes. The chant is quoted in its entirety in the pedal with an 8′ oboe stop. (Even the psalm verse is quoted, with a return to the incipit.) This is played over an ostinato accompaniment in the left hand, with interjected improvisatory figures in the right hand. Within the realm of interior prayer, there is rest and comfort to be found, yet at the same time a restless joy exposed by the unusual harmonies and imposed melodies. Ultimately, it finds repose and peace.

The heart is resilient and complex. It leads us to Jesus and to his Heart.

English Setting of Veni, Sancte Spiritus | Pentecost Sequence

ENI, SANCTE SPIRITUS, the Sequence for Pentecost Sunday is one of the great jewels of the Roman Rite. The Gregorian Chant is exquisite. The text alone is a treasure—short, simple, profound, and transcendent.

The text reminds us of the Holy Spirit’s protection and comfort. The text reminds us of God’s infinite mercy and forgiveness. We are also called to inward transformation, forgiveness, and compassion: “Bend the stubborn heart and will. Melt the frozen. Warm the chill. Guide the steps that go astray.”

This setting uses the translation by Edward Caswall from the Lyra Catholica. Cas­wall was or­dained an An­gli­can priest in 1839 and later was a convert to Roman Catholicism. His translations are known for his adherence to Roman Catholic Doctrine, faithfulness to the original text, and pure poetic rhythm. He is also cited for his translations of the Roman Breviary, published in the Lyrica Catholica. (London, 1849)

Free Download:
PDF • “Sequence for Pentecost Sunday | Veni, Sancte Spiritus” | for Schola, Organ or Piano
Includes separate versions for organ or piano and with optional lower key

COMPOSED THIS SETTING APPROXIMATELY TWENTY years ago or more, perhaps in 1992. I’m not sure. I wrote the piece for tenor Mark Donohoe, a superlative cantor who possesses clarity of diction, humility, and prayerful expression, (and a heart of gold.) Also effective for a schola, this setting has been unusually popular, hopefully reverent, and somewhat worthy of the extraordinary sacred text.

Finally, for future reference, or a last minute opportunity for the Vigil for Pentecost and Pentecost Sunday:
Free Download:
PDF • “Easter Season Communion Propers, Years ABC”
(for Schola, Organ, SATB)

Mass in Honor of Pope Saint John Paul II on “Sounds from the Spires” and the Youth-Based Chant Movement

ASS IN HONOR of Pope Saint John Paul II” was recently featured on “Sounds from the Spires” on SIRIUS XM 129 Radio, The Catholic Channel.

I had the opportunity to speak with the program’s host, Dr. Jennifer Pascual, Director of Music for Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City. In addition, special guest, Ryan Lynch, Director of Music and Organist at St. Raphael’s Parish in Medford, MA joined the program to discuss the youth-propelled chant movement, the new economic model of publishing, and how it is reshaping the liturgical landscape.

• PODCAST • You can listen here to the program broadcast on 5.18.2014:

DOWNLOAD Complete Score (2.3 MG):
PDF • Mass in Honor of Pope Saint John Paul II (for Schola, Organ, SATB)
Published with the approval for liturgical use by the Committee on Divine Worship, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

• Music from this broadcast:
“Mass in Honor of Pope St. John Paul II” | St. Cecilia Choir, Boston, MA

YouTube:  Penitential Act C | Kyrie
YouTube:  Gloria
YouTube:  Sanctus
YouTube:  Memorial Acclamation A
YouTube:  Memorial Acclamation B
YouTube:  Memorial Acclamation C
YouTube:  Doxology, Amen
YouTube:  Agnus Dei

YouTube:  Christe qui lux es et dies | The Seraphim Singers, Jennifer Lester, Director
YouTube:  St. Cecilia Day Variations | St. Cecilia Schola, Richard J. Clark, organ

• TWO BONUS PODCASTS! Here is my 2012 interview on “Sounds from the Spires.”

From 2013 Richard Kelley, trumpet, and Richard J. Clark discuss their CD, “Requiem pour une américaine à Paris”

Mass in Honor of Pope Saint John Paul II

VER SINCE MY WIFE was expecting our third child, I began composing this mass setting in thanksgiving to God for my son, Sean Paul to whom it is dedicated. While composed in a chant style, each melody is reminiscent of a simple lullaby. (The Sanctus is perhaps the best example.) Like chant, when one sings a lullaby, one often doesn’t focus on meter and timing. The words and melody flow naturally and are fully devoted to the child. Likewise, chant is fully devoted to God flowing in much the same way. As such, this mass can even be sung effectively in three ways:

1 • Unison without accompaniment

2 • Cantor/Unison Schola and Organ

3 • SATB and Organ

The voice-leading is designed to be simple; the accompaniment is well-suited for an organ of humble means.

Using the 2010 English translation of The Roman Missal, Third Edition, it is published with the approval for liturgical use by the Committee on Divine Worship, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

DOWNLOAD Complete Score (2.3 MG):
PDF • Mass in Honor of Pope Saint John Paul II (for SATB, Schola, Organ)

DOWNLOAD Unison/Organist Edition:
PDF • Mass in Honor of Pope Saint John Paul II (for Schola, Organ)
Recordings by the St. Cecilia Choir, Boston, MA, with the 1999 Smith & Gilbert Organ:

YouTube:  Penitential Act C | Kyrie
YouTube:  Gloria
YouTube:  Sanctus
YouTube:  Memorial Acclamation A
YouTube:  Memorial Acclamation B
YouTube:  Memorial Acclamation C
YouTube:  Doxology, Amen
YouTube:  Agnus Dei

LISTEN and FREE DOWNLOADS of 24 bit audio here

AM ABSOLUTELY NOTHING without my wonderful volunteers and colleagues who are generous, talented, and devoted to prayer. Many thanks to Mark Donohoe, Allesandra Cionco, Jaime Korkos, Emily Lau, Michael Olbash, Peter Tetrault, Ryan Lynch, Doug McNicol, Benjamin Mead, Robert Gregory, Gillian Lynn Cotter, Ghinwa Choueiter, Heather Young, Joseph Houley, Mark Brown, Rachel Edelman, Robert Boland, Kathleen Boland, Libby Boland, Wanner, Cynthia, William Brown, Chuck Ovivieri, Matthew Gallup, Anna Maria Licameli, Rose Sun, Michelle Ong, Patricia Almond, Rebecca Wettemann, Patricia Driscoll, Perpetua Charles, and Timothy Edward Smith

Mass of the Angels | Congregational Mass Setting in English

ASS OF THE ANGELS is based on the popular and familiar Missa VIII (De angelis), which was the standard chant Mass sung in many parishes immediately prior to Vatican II. It includes Gospel acclamations and the Credo using the familiar incipit from Credo III. It is set for cantor, congregation and optional SATB choir. This setting may also be sung in unison with cantor or schola.

• It is available exclusively through CanticaNOVA Publications.
• For ordering details click here.
• PDF samples are available here.
• See below for YouTube recordings.

Adam Wood calls it “one of the best congregational settings of the new texts.” Furthermore, the mass was influenced by Theodore Marier and Richard Proulx in two areas:

I wanted to adapt these beautiful chant melodies in an accessible manner and to be mostly in English.
That the piece could translate well liturgically, whether in the grand setting of a choir of forty with a fifty rank organ of French Romantic design in a European acoustic OR with the austerity of an eight rank organ and a single voice or unison schola

Here are some sample recordings by the St. Cecilia Choir, Boston with the 1999 Smith & Gilbert Organ.

      YouTube:  Penitential Act C | Kyrie
      YouTube:  Gloria (Refrain version)
      YouTube:  Gloria (Through-composed/cantor version)
      YouTube:  Gospel Acclamations (Alleluia and Lenten options)
      Credo (response in Latin)
      YouTube:  Sanctus
      Mystery of Faith A, B, C
      YouTube:  Agnus Dei

Free Communion Propers for the Easter Season | Years ABC

HIS COLLECTION of communion propers for the Easter Season is an update which now includes settings for all three liturgical years (A, B, C).

To sing these texts is to journey from Christ’s Resurrection to the descent of the Holy Spirit. It is quite an emotional experience when one realizes just HOW MANY ALLELUIAS are in all of the Easter propers! After abstaining from “Alleluias” throughout Lent, it is a blessed relief to sing “Alleluia” over and over again within these beautiful texts from scripture.

Free Download:
PDF • “Easter Season Communion Propers | Years ABC” (for Schola, Organ, SATB)

• Includes seventeen settings from the Easter Vigil though Pentecost Sunday.

• All are chant based in style.

• Includes a setting for the Seventh Sunday of Easter in those dioceses in which The Ascension of Our Lord is not transferred to Sunday.

• Can be sung with cantor or schola with organ. There is enormous opportunity for optional SATB singing, designed to offer contrast with unison singing.

• Optional congregation inserts for worship aids found after page 37

• Antiphon texts are English translations of those found in the Graduale Romanum. (You will find variation with the Communion propers found in the Roman Missal, especially during the Easter Season. A MUST READ article regarding Antiphons in the Roman Missal vs. the Roman Gradual is written by Jeff Ostrowski.)

HESE ANTIPHONS SHOULD ALWAYS BE SUNG with forward, yet unhurried movement, and often with an air of lightness—not always in color but in spirit and energy. Even the intensity of the Pentecost antiphon should be sung with light forward motion, yet still unhurried (despite the “rush of a mighty wind”!). Do not be afraid of engaging in mystery and energy in chant!

Each antiphon colors the text simply and occasionally with symbolic gesture. For example, the Easter Vigil / Easter Sunday antiphon ends a half step below the tonic — unresolved and evoking the mystery of the empty tomb. The Pentecost antiphon uses a similar device, bookending this collection. Another example is found in the Sixth Sunday of Easter, which utilizes an augmented fifth chord—three equal intervals representing the Trinity — the augmented fifth, symbolizing the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, on Ascension Thursday, the final chords in both the antiphon and verses are unsupported by the root, but instead by the third providing a sense of elevated motion.

For future reference, here are Communion propers for Lent and Advent:

Free Download:
PDF • “Twelve Communion Propers for Lent”
(for Schola, Organ, SATB)

Free Download:
PDF • “Advent Communion Propers”
(for Schola, Organ, SATB)

Have a blessed Lent and Holy Week!